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Post-Brexit negotiations were continued for an extra three days this week after both sides showed a hint of cautious optimism following last weekend’s meetings. Negotiators are expected to take stock of the current round of “intensive” talks this weekend when they will decide whether enough progress has been made to reach a free trade deal.
This effectively sets a Halloween deadline for the discussions, which are focusing heavily on red lines.
The Prime Minister has said he wants a Norway-style fisheries agreement, with the country taking back full control of its territorial waters.
The EU continues to fight hard on behalf of fishermen who are worried about losing unfettered access to British seas.
Skippers and fishing bosses on the continent have warned hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs are at stake if the UK kicks EU boats out.
Another thorny issue at the negotiating table is the so-called level playing field, which the bloc has called for.
Brussels wants the UK to commit to a set of common rules on standards on labour rights, tax, subsidy law and the environment.
The aim is to prevent businesses from London from gaining an unfair advantage over firms operating across the water.
A source insisted Mr Barnier’s decision to keep talks in London going until Wednesday was due to the difficulties involved in bringing dozens of negotiators to Brussels, where coronavirus infections are rising fast.
However, a source at Whitehall suggested there had in recent days been a shift in the EU’s stance at the table.
The insider said the bloc’s team “seem to have acknowledged that it is more of a two-way street” and added: “There is now a possibility we might
be able to get there with a meaningful process”.
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Another source said significant progress had been made in talks, with both sides having found solutions for “90 percent plus” of the areas contained in a deal.
Their comments are bound to give rise to fears the UK may have compromised on key issues.
If the teams, led by Mr Barnier and Lord Frost, move to the Belgian capital on Thursday it would be a major sign of enough progress having been made.
European Commission spokesman Dan Ferrie told reporters: “I can confirm that negotiations are ongoing in London right now, they will run until tomorrow and then they will take place here in Brussels, as of Thursday.”
He would not be drawn on the status of the negotiations but said both sides are “engaging intensively” to reach a deal.
Meanwhile, Downing Street has sought to pile pressure on the EU to compromise as it said “time is very short” to bridge the “significant” gaps remaining between both sides.
On Tuesday the EU offered fresh hopes of a trade pact, saying both teams were “engaging intensively” in the talks.
A spokesman for the EU Commission said: “Both sides are engaging intensively to reach a deal.”
The Brexit transition period is due to expire on December 31.
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